Welcome to my blog!

The reason behind creating this blog is directly connected to the online course I am happy and proud to be part of now. I am honoured to be selected into the group of passionate and professional English language teachers who want to develop their skills and share their experiences. Building Teaching Skills through the Interactive Web offers a chance for me to go a huge step forward in my teaching journey.

Let this blog serve as a record of my attempts and efforts. Please feel free to comment on anything that is going to happen here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Week 10 - The End and the Beginning

For the past few days I have been trying to wrap up all the things I have gone through since the beginning of the course.

Ten weeks ago I did not have my own blog ... and did not want to have one! Now I am happy to share my experiences with anyone who cares about the quality of teaching languages.

Ten weeks ago I put down all the URLs somewhere in Word files or just in my diary in order not to forget them. Now I have my own Delicious for bookmarking.

Ten weeks ago I considered PowerPoint a tool for displaying teacher's notes with some catchy images or slogans. Now I use it interactively, engaging my students (or my colleagues at work) in the presentation unfolding.

Ten weeks ago used Google only for any kind of web search. Now I still like it and use it, though not exclusively. I grew fond of NoodleTools, Clusty in particular.

Ten weeks ago I began an adventure with technology. So many things emerged meanwhile, so many things changed, but I am still the same person, still a passionate teacher of English who wants to equip her students with the best skills for communication in real world. Now I have tools to use and to achieve my goals.

Thank you all once again for reflecting with me on the ways to make our teaching more effective. The end of this course means the beginning of our journey towards better teaching and learning perspectives in the modern world.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Week 9 - One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind

I still remember the day I got an e-mail for the US Embassy in Cracow which passed the good news about me being accepted for the course. However, at that time I could not even imagine how things would develop... and I cannot imagine my life without this course!

Being busy with lots of everyday duties, we often forget about the need to continue professional development. Although we try new things, radical changes are still resisted. I must sincerely admit that this course allowed me to make a giant leap in my teaching technique. Encouraged through readings and practical assignments, I began to look at my profession from a new perspective. Even my colleagues noticed that something has changed. I strive for the new, experiment, play with the new tools. It has been such a long time since I had so much fun preparing for work. Obviously, it does not mean my teaching used to be boring, but I started to perceive it as a mission rather than job. And, what is even more important, I really feel that without my passion and my devotion, my students will never be able to learn to the most of their capacity.

The course aimed at familiarizing the teachers from all over the world with the possibilities that technology, and Internet in particular, offer. In just nine weeks I created my first blog, a delicious page for my bookmarks, attempted to develop a WebQuest (which is not finished yet), created a rubric for oral examination, made a Jeopardy game (actually even two! and tried both in class – the students loved them). I also worked on my first class wiki which will be used next semester.

The great advantage of this course was the participants who proved to be passionate and creative teachers with friendly and open attitude to the world. In the case of problems emerging (and there were lots of them!), there was always someone ready to help. The community which has been established, though diverse in terms of cultural background, shares similar strategies for fulfilling teacher’s duties in contemporary world. I would love to keep the contacts made for the future. And perhaps one day some of us will meet face-to-face somewhere on the globe?

The time and efforts cannot be wasted. And although the semester at my university has finished and there is only the exam session ahead, I have already began to think about my objectives for the next academic year. Technology will definitely be present in my course programmes and will become a vehicle for passing knowledge as well as teaching life skills.

Finally, I am hungry for more knowledge and skills concerning the use of the interactive web so I will look out for further opportunities to develop these. Self-development is one option, however I would love to be given another chance to become part of a similar enterprise. Shall I use Google of NoodleTools to find something interesting???

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Week 8 - Self ... Autonomy

Although this week started with sharing and working for others (the students), it ended with thinking about myself. How strange?

The hardest thing for me to do this week was to wrap up all my endeavours concerning implementing the use of technology (or the new uses rather) into my teaching. I have tried many things, at least this is what I thought. However, when I started to translate it into the project report template, I felt disappointed… Actually, I thought I have done more and more effectively. Nonetheless, second thoughts came and I realized the importance of the very attempts made. I know now that being part of this programme raised awareness in me as to the potential offered by the outside world. Obviously, I do not mean I did not know anything about the Internet, but I learnt it from other perspectives. Also, being able to share the experiences with people from so many different spots on the globe proved invaluable. Finally, I guess I convinced myself that nothing is impossible, we just need to find the way through, even though it leads through thorns.

As concerns the issues connected with learner autonomy, I obviously pondered a lot over my students’ perception of their own learning, but even more over my own learning which is a never-ending process! Finding your own place on the teaching-learning continuum makes a good start. Where is my place then? Everywhere, I claim...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Week 7 - Old Tools New

This week turned out to be great fun. Discovering new aspects of tools which are familiar to you is like learning to drive a car with automatic transmission, or … to be more like a teacher … learning the new meanings of the word book, room, or hand. You thought you knew how to use something and it suddenly turns out you become a complete beginner. But what immense satisfaction you get when you master this new skill!

For the last couple of days I have been learning to play with PowerPoint, to exploit it for the benefit of myself and my students. Preparing a Jeopardy game for the first time and from scratch was similar to operating a brand new mobile with a manual at hand. Even my husband, whose English is much worse than my students’ (unfortunately), expressed his admiration for the idea of using this game in class. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time (the end of the semester is approaching at my university), I had no chance to attempt to develop a PPP interactive lesson. However, I am hopefully going to do it next week for the students of political science. Getting them engaged and stimulating motivation on their part are my two main goals for the short period of time left this semester.

The focus on interaction is directly linked to the second subject area this week, namely teaching large classes. Luckily, I have never had to face this problem and/or challenge. My classes were never bigger than 25 and now they are not more than 20 students at a time. However, many teachers have had to learn to deal with this situation. Personally, I notice two main difficulties: establishing contact with the students and assessment. The first one concerns the typical teacher-student and student-student relations in and out of class. Many students remain anonymous in such large classes, the teacher finds out about them only from written assignments or index books to sign. I cannot imagine not knowing my students by their names and not knowing what kind of people they generally are. How can you overcome this in a class with 300 students? And assessment poses an even greater obstacle. How many times can set written assignment not tog et lost in piles of essays to read? How many times can you do vocabulary tests to see what new lexical items they have acquired? How many times do you have a chance to talk to an individual student for than two minutes? I am truly lucky… but my colleagues who manage to handle at least some of the obstacles I enumerated deserve highest marks!

To finish up in an interactive way:

What makes a good PPP?:

a) the number of slides
b) the number of images
c) the number of questions asked by the students

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Week 6 - Finding the Best Way

We spend most of our lives making decisions, choosing the best options, considering the pros and cons. This continuous struggle for finding the best way to follow fills all spheres of our lives. Each and every moment requires personal judgment, whether we think about clothes to wear, lunch to eat, or methods to apply in our classroom.

This week I have learnt about a very important aspect of my profession, i.e. assessment. The first lesson made me think about my own learning style and then analyze the learning styles of my students. How surprised I was to find out that I am NOT a verbal learner though I teach a foreign language! Perhaps my assumptions referring to my students are also based on some overgeneralizations and I should immediately revise them?

I have always believed in the power of assessment. Poor results of my students make me think and analyze my own teaching. Maybe it is my fault? Maybe the requirements were set to high? Maybe I have not explained everything clearly? Creating rubrics appears to clarify at least some of these queries. Comprehensible yet challenging requirements underlie all adequate assessment. This week I managed to create my own rubrics for assessing the final oral exam in English. And although they simply reflect what I have always being using, their unambiguous structure and simple layout seem to address all of my students questions about this particular exam. Sometimes simple solutions are the best!

The further we move on with this course, the more I realize the quality of my teaching and the significance of my endeavours. Working with people, we are not only responsible for their knowledge, but also for their formation as human beings. We teach them structures and vocabulary, pronunciation and writing strategies, but do we teach them how to be good people? Are we models for them? What kind of communities our classes are? Finally, how can our assessment influence their future decisions? It can, for sure…

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Week 5 - First things first...

This week has been unique for my family and especially for my daughter. It is today that she has received the sacrament of the Holy Communion for the first time in her life. Recent days have been full of preparations, both spiritual and those down-to-earth. Therefore, my mind and my soul have been preoccupied with things much higher than technology…

However, I did manage to complete all the basic tasks assigned for week 4. Having gone through the readings concerning project-based learning and webquests, I shared some instant reflections on the issue, some related to the problems other teachers described in their posts on Nicenet. Personally, I had been familiar with the idea of using projects for teaching and learning, though I rarely implement them in my teaching practice since they take up a lot of time. When designing my own, I decided to concentrate on something universal for my university, something I could introduce next year, possibly for new groups of students. My project involved preparing an introduction programme for potential Erasmus students coming to study at Ignatianum. I believe it will prove useful in the future.

As far as webquests are concerned, I had never used them before, but I have to admit they are an almost unlimited tool for teachers (of anything!). Although developing one requires time (I will be able to finish my own next week), the advantage is that you can use them as often as you need, they are adaptable and can also be widely used by other people for teaching purposes. Since I was also educated to become a nurse, I selected the topic of first aid to become the starting point for my own webquest. Teaching predominantly students of pedagogy, I am well aware of the fact that this kind of knowledge is absolutely indispensable in their future work, yet it is not part of their curriculum. Taking responsibility for other people’s lives demands thorough preparation on the part of pedagogues and it also applies to dealing with potential dangerous situations which might and do happen in life…

Finally, I cannot resist expressing genuine admiration for the authors of webquests developed this week. Dear All, you are real professionals and passionate teachers; I do envy your students…

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Week 4 - Reading to Read and Writing to Write

This week has been a great trial for me... Apart from the challenging tasks connected with our course, I had some urgent problems to solve both at work and at home. Luckily, most of them are under control now, though I am still expecting several things to clear up in the near future.

What I mostly appreciate this course for is the fact that each day brings something new and I do not mean knowledge or skills only. Every day I reflect on certain issues referred to my present job, every day from a different perspective. Reflection is so powerful! This week there were two main areas of focus: supporting reading/writing skills with the use of the web and gathering data for our course project. This time I decided to begin with the latter.

Once again I presented my focus group, this time selecting the problem areas that might be dealt with with the help of the Internet. I believe it still needs further examination and more detailed analysis, though I am becoming more and more aware of the background I am working on. Realizing the actual situation with its strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) constitutes the key to future success. So having the key which door shall I open first???

For many a student reading and writing pose a great problem when they are to be done in a foreign language. And the most common obstacle here is not the difficulty of the text but its length! Helping our students find their (individual) way of mastering the two skills is a long and gradual process. We usually have two little time in class to make them feel a sense of achievement in this respect. Therefore, supporting in-class activities with additional assignments often proves a good and reasonable solution. Taking advantage of the tools found in the web can greatly facilitate this. During this week we were suggested lots of useful websites to explore as well as techniques of applying them in the classroom. For me, this second point is very important since it is not always enough to have a tool at your disposal, but peer (and instructor of course) guidance frequently turns invaluable.

Therefore, finishing my post I would like to thank all those who passionately contribute to the great value and high level of this course. Thank you all!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Week 3 - Listen (in)to the web

I feel as if I begin to read a new book every week, but I never finish… Each Monday (sometimes earlier) Deborah bombards us with loads of references to go through. And although we may usually select one or two resources, it would be unwise not to read all! I would like to lock myself in some place (with enough food and drink of course) and start a never-ending search… it is so engaging that I need to force myself to stop… I sleep less, eat more and always look forward to the time when I can start my laptop…

This week was exceptional since I could finally organize my favourite sites with the use of a new tool – DELICIOUS. I recommend this site for anyone who uses more than three sites on a regular basis. See mine (http://delicious.com/joannazubel) and set up yours! You can use it anywhere and do not need to bother whether you have saved a bookmark on your own computer or the one at work.

My newest bookmarks on DELICIOUS are all connected with the second task this week – the examination of aural/oral skill building websites. Having refreshed the basic concepts regarding teaching listening and speaking, I went through several sites (like http://www.esl-lab.com, http://www.onestopenglish.com or http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org) to find out loads of useful and varied activities for learners at any age and at any level of English (starting with myself!). Until now, I have primarily been using listening as suggested in the course books I follow. The above-mentioned sites (and many more) offer a lot of activities to be used in class as well as for homework or self-study. The only thing you need is a good computer with Internet access and time… time… time…

I am scared to check next week’s assignments…

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Week 2 - Web Searching and Setting Objectives

The course is gathering momentum... This week my attention was divided between learning new tools for web searching and analyzing the classes I teach in order to prepare for the final project.

As far as the first one goes, I discovered that Google is not the only search engine and, most surprisingly, not the best one for all purposes. I can now strongly recommend NoodleTools, especially Clusty and AskKids. However, I still believe in Google, especially for finding information in my native language, i.e. Polish. The most important lesson I learnt is that to save time and effort in doing something, you first need to devote a lot of both in order to learn how to do it effectively! It may sound awkward, but it proves right when you try!

The other task we were assigned this week was to describe one (or two) classes that we currently teach. Although most of my great colleagues used the same class for two tasks (setting objectives with the ABCD model and preparing for the final project), I decided to present two of my classes. And the reason is not that I have too much time, but I feel we often miss this stage of planning our teaching, especially as regards more experienced teachers. It proved a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the state and condition of my classes and individual students, which obviously change with time. Something that was true at the beginning of a semester, may be completely invalid at the end! Continuous reflection and re-analysis of the teaching-learning environment constitute a key feature of effective teaching and learning.

I hope my enthusiasm will endure for the next eight weeks and I will end up with a challenging and apt project for my teaching.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Week 1- Learning by doing

This week I've decided to put theory into practice. And although there was not so much theoretical input, the output - as you will see in a moment - is pretty impressive.

During Week 1, I learned how to create a reflective blog ... and I did it:) But I also learned that using technology, especially the web, in the classroom is something invaluable. With my eyes and ears wide open, I was reading posts submitted by my colleagues on how they apply technology in their work. I knew I had to re-examine the tools I was using to keep up with the world!

Preparing for my Monday classes, I had lots of diffculties with the choice of material to be covered. There had to be a slight change in the plans due to the tragedy that had happened on April 10th and due to the national mourning announced. At the same time I realized that being a patriot in contemporary times is far different from what it meant in the past. My service to the nation is directly connected with the social roles I have been assigned. Therefore, being a patriot for me means being a good teacher!

After these relections, I made a decision: on the spur of the moment I developed three topics for presentations (The Lives Lost, Poland Pays Tribute and The World Pays Tribute). On Monday morning I took my students (2nd year students of political science) to the computer lab, let them choose a topic, assigned a time limit of 90 minutes (the total length of our class) and asked them to prepare a PowerPoint presentation on the given topic. Obviously, I monitored their work and supported them if they needed help, but it was their project that mattered! And what mattered to me was the process of preparing the presentation rather than the very product (although the output was pretty good). My main objective for this class was to make my students use the Internet in a different way from usual. Instead of searching for information on Polish websites, they started browsing English ones, reading the news, comments, opinions, something they never do in English! I can now admit that although their presentations contain mistakes, although they could be improved in terms of animation or images, they really met my objective and I am proud of them...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Week 1- My first steps into blogging

Although I am not a chicken-livered kind of person, I got really scared when I saw this assignment for Week 1. The reason is quite simple - I had never used blogs before. What's more, I had not even read other people's blogs. Why? Probably because I much prefer face-to-face contact. However, having read some materials on the subject and also having viewed some example blogs suggested by Deborah, I much changed my way of thinking about blogs.

Teachers in Poland - at least the ones I know and work with - do not use blogs for teaching purposes. Actually, they rarely even use the web for teaching, or it is limited only to using the materials offered by various publishing houses or institutions. Therefore, I feel absolutely amazed and intrigued by the opportunities that blogs offer for both teachers and students. Aware of the fact that anyone can read my own blog - even my students - I promise to use the web, and blogs in particular, for the good of my students, my fellow teachers and for my own as well.

Having discovered the various, though still basic, uses of blogs, let me share a few spontaneous reflections.

To start with, as a teacher I can choose the type of blog that would best suit my students' and my classes' needs. Whether it is going to be a tutor blog, a class blog, or a learner blog (or a combination of all three) depends on how I want to use it and what for. As an introduction to the adventure with the web, I would probably choose the first type bearing in mind mind that it is not an ESL, but an EFL class. However, with time I would try to move to the class blog as soon as possible to create the kind of environemnt to enable them to practise English outside the classroom which they they have very few opportunites to do. And apart from all the obstacles that all may and definitely will face on the way, blogging serves an invaluable source of communicative real-life tasks.

Furthermore, traditional (classroom) teaching suffers certain drawbacks, such as time limits; we do only have 90 mintes per week and at least 15 students in each group! With blogs I could extend this time according to my students needs. Obviously it requires more time time devoted to teaching from me - but can you imagine the results?! I already see my students eager to visit our class blog in the evening to check what others think about their piece of writing, or how Ms Zubel commented their group discussion. I also imagine those shy and quiet students (though there not many nowadays) who desperately want to have their share in the discussion on job prospects for the students of political science in Cracow.

"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..."

See you on my blog next week.